We all know how the sales funnel works. Marketing drives demand to turn lookers into leads, and then nurtures, moving them from awareness to consideration, where sales takes over. We’re also familiar with the shape, stages, and objective of the funnel: to keep filling the top, since the majority of prospects dropout as they move through. What’s left at the bottom is your best chance of adding customers or in the case of Partner recruitment, Partners.
All good? Not really. According to CEO Brian Halligan of HubSpot, during his keynote at Inbound2018, where he declared the funnel is dead. Now rather than launch into a debate on the merit of such a claim, let’s assume he’s correct, and consider what’s transpired in the market to set us on this course and how to adjust our actions accordingly.
The Buyer’s Journey Killed the Funnel
I know it seems like ages ago but it’s actually only been five years since SiriusDecisions informed us 67% of the buyer’s journey is done digitally. Which at the time was a radical shift from traditional sales and marketing-lead journeys.
The main argument HubSpot makes is that the traditional funnel created customers primarily by playing the numbers game where more leads = more customers. However, the funnel-model doesn’t take into consideration that a buyer’s trust in sales and marketing is at an all-time low (5%), causing the pendulum to swing back towards word-of-mouth as the strongest tactic.
When we look at our own buying patterns we can see this dynamic in play. Consider your behavior during B2B purchasing decisions. Do you take the word of the first salesperson to reach out to you or are you asking your peers and colleagues via social, online, or face-to-face as well?
If the Funnel is Dead - Now What?
If the funnel is dead, obviously something has to replace it and according to HubSpot, it’s a flywheel, driven by customer experience:
The assumption in the flywheel approach is that happy customers will evangelize your product and bring buyers. All good if you’re selling in B2C or even in B2B when your product is something everyone needs. But what if you’re in a B2B niche or your product is only one piece of a larger solution, a common situation for Vendors? If that’s the case where do you begin?
Sales and Marketing in a Flywheel
In a funnel, sales and marketing work to attract and entice buyers. In the flywheel, sales and marketing are wrapped around customer experience. Instead of enticing buyers, it's engaging them and rather than attracting it’s about educating. And beyond all else, the flywheel is about customer experience as a form of marketing, meaning the focus is on what current customers love about your product (or Partner program) and a sales focus on happy, long-term outcomes, including onboarding when applicable.
It’s no longer just closing a sale or recruiting a Partner - it’s building a relationship. Sounds reasonable and very similar to what we’ve been talking about and doing for our clients for years.
Reducing Friction in the Buying Process
If you think about a flywheel, it’s in motion and as long as you keep the motion, it’s all good. Friction is the enemy of a flywheel in the same way that if you stop generating demand, the funnel won’t be full. For the flywheel analogy, you have to reduce friction in order to keep the wheel spinning. That means instead of convincing buyers, you’re looking at the end-to-end buyers’ journey, identifying points of friction and alleviating them.
Common Points of Friction to Look for
Most prospects, including Partners, want information now. They don’t want to send an email and wait. In that case, chatbots are one way to remove friction. In other cases, prospects might be vetting a platform and don’t want to wait for a demo. A self-serve demo or trial version helps reduce friction there. Other times it might be a playbook or other content that does the trick.
Of course, every situation is unique but looking for the friction and making the customer experience priority one, regardless of whether you call it a funnel or start referring to it as a flywheel is key. If you’re looking for more ideas to drive demand and better position your offerings with and for your Channel Partners, contact us, we’re happy to help!